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The Greatest American Hero

By Anonymous

An ordinary high school teacher named Ralph Hinkley is visited by benevolent aliens out in the California desert and given a spectacular red superhero suit to solve the worlds problems. The aliens or "little greenguys" team Hinkley up with a gung ho FBI agent named Bill Maxwell. Together the two very different personalities use the suit to fight crime.

In the universe of this TV show, Ralph Hinkley had no superhero public persona, he did his heroic deeds incognito while Maxwell got credit for "baggin' the bad guys". Only Maxwell and Hinkley's girlfriend (later wife) Pam Davidson knew of the suit and mysterious aliens, anyone else who came across Ralph in the suit automatically figured he must be some kind of psycho or homosexual.

The superhero styled suit caused many problems in Ralph's personal life, and he detested putting on the silly looking suit to help Maxwell with his busts. To further complicate things Hinkley lost the instruction book to the suit, thus he was forced to learn the suits many powers through trial and error - often with embarrassing results. Flying was particularly difficult without the instruction book.

The show suffered from the very beginning from a pair of unlikely incidents. First, those who owned the Superman franchise threatened to sue over what they thought was theft of their characters. Second and perhaps more seriously, the show featured a character named "Hinkley" and debuted less than two weeks before John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

The character's name quickly changed to "Hanley," but ratings further plummeted. After a few months, the character's name was quietly changed back to Ralph Hinkley.

This show was the brainchild of TV tycoon Stephen J. Cannell, who specializes in action-comedies and had other hits such as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Hardcastle & McCormick, Wiseguy, and 21 Jumpstreet.

The Greatest American Hero was nominated for an Emmy during it's first season.

Great news for GAH fans: All three seasons have now been released on DVD! Season one, Season two, Season three.

 

Share Your Memories!

Do you have a favorite episode of The Greatest American Hero? What do you remember about the series? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"By far the best episode was "The Beast in Black". I haven't seen this show since it first aired, but it remains my favorite episode of any show EVER. I would love to be able to see it again."

--Ramshackle

"I don't remember the title of the show, but the aliens come back to give Ralph a second "super" suit and in doing so, took him to the aliens home planet and showed him that his won planet was destroyed by his races own hands through "nuclear" destruction. The aliens gave us the suit so we wouldn't suffer their fate of nuclear annilation. It was cool because I wanted to see want the aliens looked like."

--rbf

"My favorite episode was the one in which he figured out how to make himself smaller than a grain of sand (using the instruction manual to his suit) and then lost the manual by placing it on a grain of sand and accidentally making himself larger."

--Anonymous

"When I was young around 12 or 13 I use to pretend that I was the Greatest American Hero. I use to get one of my Mother's towels and tie it around my neck and pretend to fly around the house with the theme music playing on the tv or recorded on audio cassette. Now that I am 30 everytime I hear the theme song somewhere I can't help to reminisce about the good old days. This was one of my favorite show."

--JJunco6443

"I recall one day during the last week of school before summer break, towards the end of my 1st grade year, the 2nd time (I was held back a year), I tried to bargain with this kid named Earl Cooke (who also rode my bus and got on/off at my stop). I would trade him the electric guitar that I brought for "show and tell" for his GREATEST AMERICAN HERO lunchbox. He agreed, and the deal was done - until the end of the day when we got off the bus. Well, you can imagine the looks on our mothers' faces when he proudly showed off his new possesions, and I my new lunchbox. We were made to trade back OR ELSE. I don't know what kind of fate awaited my freind when he got home, but I not only got the spanking of my 8-year-old life and was also grounded for the first 3 weeks of summer and not allowed to touch any of my guitars or records or anything related to music for that time. But that didn't mean "NO TV" and I got to catch up on GAH big time (and developed a small crush on Pamela, our protagonist's girlfriend). As reward for serving out my punishment with no complaints, I got the 45 single of The Theme song and learned it right off the bat!"

--Bumbling bartender

"Sarting with episode 1, I was hooked into this show! I was still 12 at the time and still open to fantasy type shows like this one. If I recall correctly, I was actually swayed by the ad's ABC showed for it's upcoming premeire. It looked like it would be fun. Through the 1st season it was very funny and exciting to watch William Katt's character try to learn how to work the super-hero suit the aliens gave him after losing the instruction manual. The 2nd season - I believe the aliens returned with a new book but I think he lost it again? The slapstick of him crashing and bumbling got a little old after awhile. I recall mostly the episode where he stops a nuclear missle from being launched by holding it down with his hands! Around the end of 1982, I started high school and I guess I just sort of forgot about it. It was off by February anyway. I bought the show's theme song when it was released and I still have it and the picture sleeve for the record. I even have Joey Scarbury's LP that features the song. I won't say G.A.Hero is a classic but I will say it's a show I recall fondly. Believe it or not! (ha-ha)"

--Happi-Puppi

"I couldn't watch the show without acting like I was asleep because it was past my bed time. So most of the episodes I just listened to on the radio. So when ever I finaly get the series I will make them available on kazaa for anyone to download for free. Now that is the american way, and if anyone want to help out please do so."

--onejeffwon

"I remeber Punky Brewster as my most favorite show ever as a young child. I never missed an episode. From the time I was about 5 or 6 till I was 10 all I wanted most in the world was to be Punky or one of her friends. I had everything Punky from 2 different colored shoes to my hair up in pig tails and a bandana tied around my leg. Oh, those where the days. I know that Punky helped to shape the fun loving young women I am today. I hope that they start showing reruns so that other young girls can see how much fun it is to just have a good time. I think one of my favorite episodes is where Cherry gets a boyfriend whose last name is soda and Punky makes fun of her that if she married him her name would be Cherry Soda. Punky Brewster is a great show and I feel that I am a better person having watched it!!! Thanks to all who created it. "

--Anonymous

"Imagine an special education teacher (yeah, all good intentions, lots of patience...) called Ralph Hinkley, who has a class full of brainless teens, a half- girlfriend called Pam, and the typical problems of the early Awesome80s. Imagine he's kidnapped by... aliens, right?. Imagine they don't change his DNA, but give him an special suit, half Superman -style, half The Flash, who gives super-power to the owner... great, isn't it?.

Well, it's not. Because the aliens, as a super-advanced civilization, gave him the suit with... an owner's manual, like a DVD or a computer. And they don't know that it's human behaviour to lose all manuals before learning how to run the things. And Mr. Hinkley's not an exception. Of course, he loses the instructions before reading a word. So he must learn how to use it by practice... and it means, for example, lots of "Crash test dummies" scenes learning how to fly. And it's only the beginning.

A very funny TV show, with the greatest music I've ever heard ("believe it or not, I'm walking on aaair, I never thought I could feel so freee...") and better that lots of today TV shows made with more money, but less imagination."

--Jota

"The most poignant, and maybe the best, episode of this program is "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."

The character of Ralph Hinckley (William Katt in a perfect role) was always uncomfortable with his newfound powers and ridiculous looking outfit; ("..why couldn't it have a collar and lapels...why long-johns and a cape..??), he asks in the first episode. Even if he had the instruction book, he wouldn't have felt any different. Would he?

One day he gets to meet his childhood idol, the Lone Ranger. Or at least the actor who played him, Clayton Moore..the original.

From what I recall, Hinckley brings his son along to the local mall to meet Clayton Moore/Lone Ranger. Afterwards, Ralph has a chance to talk to 'The Lone Ranger' in the mall parking lot. Confused about his own fate and ready to give up the super-powered suit altogether, Ralph asks Moore simple questions about being a hero and the difference between right and wrong, etc..

Moore's answer and Hinckley's reaction is, believe it or not, a tearjerker. Just one example of how well done (albeit corny) this show really was when it wanted to be. Considering the material to work with, this was great stuff. This was the kind of episode that made this show so popular. During 1980-82, The Greatest American Hero was a huge hit. "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" is just one reason why we all remember this show so well to this day....24 years later.

Let's hope the forthcoming motion picture (Reportedly by Disney) has the same heart the actual show did."

--Wildstar (ChrisZ from Tucson)

"My favorite GAH episode is 'The Beast in Black', where Ralph finds a window into the 4th dimension while scouting an old house. Bill gets possesed by a woman's spirit, and Ralph must return her through that window.
I loved this show! I wish Spike TV or TV Land would run it again."

--Anonymous

"I remember loving this show as a small child. I loved the theme song, Believe It or Not. My favorite ep was the one about the wild horse, called the Devil in Disguise. I can't remember the name though."

--Anonymous

"This show was more than it seemed on the surface. It was about an everyday ordinary guy who was trying to do his best with what he had. Just like all of us - it was about life. We all struggle everyday to do our best. TGAH attracted us, because we knew what it was like to have to deal with problems everyday without an "instruction book". We can't always identify with "Men of Steel" with superhuman powers; but we can identify with the frustrations of people in our lives expecting us to do superhuman things when we are just human."

--Paula

"A little interesting tibbet. During the shows run, then President Reagan was shot by John Hinkley. After that happened, the students from that point just called him Mr. H so as not to mention the would be assasin last name. My favorite episode is the one where he got shot, and then the aliens beamed them up. "

--The King

"I loved The Greatest American Hero when I was 9 1/2 years old. It is about Ralph Hinkley who is chosen by aliens to save the world from being destroyed. Many people call this a Superman rip off. I see Ralph as a guy trying to handle things in the real world.

My favorite episode was "Operation Spoilsport." The aliens use a dead man to tell Bill and Ralph that a missle system is set to fire nuclear missles by itself if there was no one left on earth. When Bill is captured by some serviceman, Ralph is on his own at some point. He winds up at the home of Charles Ratners' Ex wife. Feeling that he is at a dead end, he remarkes, "Maybe I should take my kid and fly away somewhere. " He is touching a computer that gives him a vision to where Charles Ratner and Bill are. When Ralph finally reaches his partner, Bill is all drugged up on some truth serum. But Ralph manages to stop the threat when a mistle tries to fire. He uses his super strength to keep it from taking off.

I like this one because it shows Ralph handling a major "suit class" problem. It shows that he can be scared and that not all heroes know what to do in a situation like that. I like the series because it took me away from my Cerebral Palsy for an hour and when he flew straighter later on, my soul went with him."

--Pamela Jo Parrish TGAH Fan

"So much potential wasted…with one of the greatest American theme songs EVER…

`The Greatest American Hero' is a textbook case of a television show being a victim of `the powers that be. ' I was in grade school during the time of its run, but I remember most of the behind the scenes drama. Though its initial debut was well received, it wasn't long before the show met an ill-fated course. First, it was an unfortunate victim of the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt, resulting in the horrific `Hinkley/Hanley' overdub. This event, followed by constant time changes, late season debuts, pre-empts, and the never-ending lawsuit with Warner Brothers and DC comics over its supposed `Superman-like' premise, kept it from reaching its full potential with viewers. Then, like those aliens in the desert, the show disappeared without a trace.

There are several theories as to why this show never reached its full potential. I personally think Warner Brothers and DC Comics made ABC executives nervous, hence the delays and time changes. While I can certainly understand their motives (the Superman movies were popular at the time) I considered each character to be a separate entity. I never thought William Katt was an exact clone of Christopher (or George, for that matter) Reeve's famous role. Superman (I thought) was a strong, supernatural hero from another planet who masqueraded as a human being. The Greatest American Hero was just an ordinary guy who stumbled upon good fortune and tried to utilize it in the best way he could to help mankind. It could have been anyone that night instead of Ralph Hinkley, for all we know (the lyrics of the theme song attempted to explain this). Katt simply provided a handsome, lovable example of the `imperfect hero. '

My mother and sister absolutely loved this show. I was the youngest, so I watched it mostly because they did! `The Greatest American Hero' did grow on me, though…so I, too, have fond memories. I was in love with the theme song, however, from the debut! Even if you didn't like the show, you have to admit that the theme song, `Believe It Or Not, ' sung by Joey Scarbury, is one of the greatest of all time. The earlier comments were correct. `Believe It Or Not' is awesome."

--Real Hero

"This was one of my favorite shows as a kid. I remember being in gradeschool out on the playground; swinging on the swings on my stomache and singing "Believe it or Not" out loud and flailing my arms about like Ralph. When I found out that the show was comming to DVD I got so excited; I just couldn't believe it. As a child I watched "The Greatest American Hero" with my mom, and now we're watching it again together and it just makes me feel so good. watching these episodes again is like saying hello to an old dear friend you haven't seen in ages, it's really special to me. William Katt is playfully good looking and charming, (i just love his blond curls)Robert Culp is nothing short of a crismatic pro, and Connie Selleca is just comepletely timeless and holds her own among the fellas. I really just can't gush enough over "The Greatest American Hero" I love it!"

--Shelly

""The Greatest American Hero" was a show with great potential. Creative writing combined the bumbling comical elements of an unlikely superhero with the human factor of the burden of responsibility of having to "save the world". I think two of the best written episodes were "Operation Spoiled Sport" and the one where the aliens return after Ralph is shot.

Too bad the show was cancelled. I think the creator, Stephen Cannell really liked this one."

--Bandit

""The Greatest American Hero" was a show with great potential. Creative writing combined the bumbling comical elements of an unlikely superhero with the human factor of the burden of responsibility of having to "save the world". I think two of the best written episodes were "Operation Spoiled Sport" and the one where the aliens return after Ralph is shot. Too bad the show was cancelled. I think the creator, Stephen Cannell really liked this one. "

--Bandit

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: March 18, 1981 - February 3, 1983

Cast: William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Sellecca, Faye Grant

Network: ABC

Genre: Adventure

Theme songBelieve It Or Notby Joey Scarbury (written by Mike Post & Stephen Geyer)

Image courtesy of ABC


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